Hugh Smith’s letter from ISLAY
Headlining a star-studded array of talent at this year’s Lagavulin-sponsored Islay Jazz festival was the celebrated saxophonist and bass clarinettist, Courtney Pine.
The London-born musician, who was supported by pianist, Zoe Rahman, played to a sold- out house at Lagavulin.
Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle hosted the New Swing Trio and local group 95 Roots and was also the setting for a further appearance by Courtney and Zoe who were joined on this occasion by pianist Enrico Zanisi.
The Blueswater Quartet replaced the indisposed Jedd Pots and the Hillman Hunters at Bruichladdich hall, the Rhinns hall hosted the Alan Barnes Quartet, Rose Room entertained at Laphroaig and Ardbeg distilleries and tributes were paid to jazz great, Chet Baker, at the Port Mòr establishment at Port Charlotte.
The Gaelic Centre welcomed the Gus Stirrat Band, the Fat- Suit gigged at Bowmore hall and pianists Zanisi and McCready did their bit at the RSPB centre at Gruinart. Brass Gumbo beat their drums at Lagavulin and Bruichladdich distillery and the local village hall was the setting for appearances by the Jim Mullen Trio and the Mario Caribe Quintet.
Diageo’s Lagavulin Distillery continues to be the headline sponsor of the festival which has been running since 1999. It also enjoys backing from Argyll and Bute council and Creative Scotland and is promoted by Jazz Scotland in conjunction with the Islay Arts Association.
Aly and Phil on form
A full-house audience was clamouring for more when the traditional musical duo of Aly Bain and Phil Cunningham, along with vocalist, Ewan Henderson, put on a foot-stomping, rumbustious programme at Port Ellen’s Ramsay Hall as part of the Blas Festival 2015.
Fiddler Aly and accordionist Phil were in top form as they performed a varied selection from their extensive repertoire.
Lochaber’s Ewan Henderson was in splendid voice as he entertained with popular Gaelic songs and the co-founder member of the group ‘Mànran’ also showed his fiddling skills as he joined Aly and Phil in the rousing finale.
Sharing the entertainment with the visiting musicians were the talented youngsters from the Fèis Òigridh Ìle ‘s Dhiùra who kept up the tempo set by the professionals.
Islay inn a gold star
The owner and staff at the Ballygrant Inn and Restaurant ( pictured right) are walking tall after the island hostelry received the top accolade of ‘ whisky bar of the year’ awarded annually by the ‘Dram’ magazine.
Proprietor David Graham and his son, Ewan, received their award at a reception hosted by the East Kilbride comedian and presenter, Craig Hill, in Glasgow’s Hilton Hotel.
The competition, now in its 20th year, attracted over 4,000 nominations and the judging panel members were greatly impressed by the hotel’s excellent whisky bar. They also noted the high standard of service provided and the hoteliers’ almost infectious enthusiasm and knowledge of the ‘ water of life’.
David and Ewan were delighted to receive this prestigious award.
‘This award’, said David, ‘is a feather in Ballygrant and Islay’s cap and will hopefully encourage more visitors and tourists to seek out the island and enjoy the hospitality and delights it has to offer’.
Hugh Smith, 4, Flora Street, Bowmore, Islay PA43 7JX. Telephone: 01496 810 658.
HIGH NOTE: Courtney Pine